Artificial insemination, or intrauterine insemination (IUI), is part of the array of assisted reproductive technology (ART) available to couples who are infertile, or are having trouble getting pregnant. First used on animals in the early 20th century, artificial insemination has become one of the first procedures used on couples who are struggling with conceiving. Artificial insemination has come a long way from what essentially consisted of a carefully timed insemination with a turkey baster-like tool to the highly successful procedure it is today.
Artificial insemination may be used for a variety of reasons. Primarily, it is used for men who may have a low sperm count, have sperm that have poor motility (movement), or even for couples who may have a sperm allergy. A couple is considered infertile if they’ve had regular, unprotected intercourse for at least a year. However, if the woman is over 35, they may start infertility treatments after six months.
A cycle of artificial insemination begins with the woman taking a fertility drug, such as Clomid, that helps promote the release of eggs from the ovaries. Typically, a woman releases only one egg per cycle, so numerous eggs increase the chances of conception. In addition to the fertility drugs, the woman and doctor will be tracking her menstrual cycle to pinpoint ovulation. She may use the old fashioned way of tracking basal temperature and vaginal discharge, or can use an ovulation kit to do the job.
Once a woman it is determined that a woman will be ovulating, the man gives a sperm sample, or donor sperm is retrieved from a sperm bank. The sperm is “washed,” meaning it is concentrated into a sample containing the best sperm. It is then artificially inseminated, or injected into the uterus using a syringe, sometimes assisted with an ultrasound.
Couples typically complete anywhere from three to six cycles of artificial insemination. It has approximately a 5% to 20% success rate, and factors such as age, condition of the man’s sperm and mother’s health will affect the efficacy of the procedure. Artificial insemination is fairly un-invasive, inexpensive and is a more natural way of conceiving than other infertility treatments.
With artificial insemination, there is a small window of opportunity, and it will only work if timed right with the woman’s ovulation. In the end, it’s still up to the sperm to do the work of fertilizing the egg. Artificial insemination may cost upwards of $4000 US Dollars (USD) per cycle, and often, insurance companies won’t pay for the procedure. If you’re having trouble getting pregnant, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor about this option — it may be all the help you need to get pregnant.